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365: St Mary's, Halesworth, Suffolk, England
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St Mary's, Halesworth, Suffolk
Mystery Worshipper: Bagpuss.
The church: St Mary's, Halesworth, Suffolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Grand – apparently Halesworth was large and prosperous back in the 15th century, when this was built. The building is made of cobble stones, with wooden pews inside and no carpet. It has a pretty graveyard.
The church: As I walked in, I realized that I pretty much halved the average age of the congregation. After taking my bearings, I estimated that there were only three people under the age of 60. However, outside on the noticeboard they were advertizing a lively celebration on the first Sunday of each month... Intriguing.
The cast: The service was shared among four or five people, but there wasn't a notice sheet which might have told me their names.
What was the name of the service?
Communion Service (9.30am).

How full was the building?
About 50 people. About 10 minutes into the service i became aware of the lack of background noise, and realized there were no children at all.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was apparently a few minutes late (although my watch said 9.28), so I slipped in quietly. A man on the door beamed at me and gave me the three books/sheets I needed. He was the only person who seemed genuinely happy to see me.

Was your pew comfortable?
I had a wide pew, with no carpet or cushions, unfortunately. It was hard, but we didn't sit down that much, so I survived.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was late! When I arrived, the teddybear man at the front was giving a rundown of what was happening throughout August. After this, the procession moved up the aisle, and we were off.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The woman who processed up the aisle (followed by the Bible holder and two candle holders) mumbled something at the back before she moved. Others interpreted this as an invitation or command to stand, and I duly followed.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We had a sheet with the collect and readings. The hymnbook was Old and New Anglican Hymns, and the communion liturgy came from Common Worship, version 2.

What musical instruments were played?
The teddybear man played the organ, still completely robed up in green and gold lamé – mmmm, tasty.

Did anything distract you?
There appeared to be a tacky gold theme running throughout - green and gold lamé stoles, candlesticks, etc. Having three books/sheets was also annoying, as I was never quite sure which one I should be looking at. And they wouldn't fit on the shelf in front of my pew, leading to hymnbooks dropping with loud crashes. Finally, it was assumed that you knew what was happening at all times, and therefore they didn't need to say, "We will now sing..." One hymn was split in two around the Gospel reading, and by the time I realised, the hymn had ended!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Worship was staid, quiet, out-of-tune and weedy (no one seemd to know the hymns). We had some comedy elements. A woman in front of me started a verse at least a line before everyone else, and as she had a powerful voice, you can imagine the resultant discord.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – It was short, sweet, to the point and easy to understand.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He started with the Millenium Dome and Princess Diana's death, before moving to prayer. He said that the Lord's prayer is a basic model, and all too often we gabble through it, not really thinking about what we are saying. We also display cupboard love, only prayingto God when we want things. Prayer is something to be worked at, something to learn, not something that happens automatically when you become a Christian.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In the liturgy, we got to the saying of Jesus: "Take, eat, this is my body, broken for you, do this in remembrance of me." Then they paused, and the birds sang as the church bell softly chimed. It was peace and beauty.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Peace. There was a feeling of, "you will shake my hand, or I will leave it just by your nose until night falls." Also, in the intercessions we were told exactly who in the long list of names was a priest... like we're meant to pray more for a priest?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone seemed to descend on their friends. Eventually I abandoned looking lost and went to grab coffee elsewhere.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't dare to drink their coffee – I'd had enough disapproving looks for one day. They had coffee and squash laid out on a table, in plastic cups.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – This church appears to be dead or very nearly, and I'm young and alive!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
In places, but not really.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
It was pretty unremarkable. Already, a day later, most of it is fading from my memory.
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